NAIROBI, Kenya – Just over three weeks ago, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed freed up his military forces to try to subjugate the country’s northern Tigray region, whose rebel ruling party had until recently been the ruling force in Ethiopia’s central government.
On Thursday, Mr Ahmed sparked the conflict, ordered his “final” military attack on Tigray’s capital, and announced that the deadline for handing over the leaders of the ruling party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, had expired.
“The last peaceful gate that the TPLF clique still had to go through has now been firmly closed,” he said. statement on Twitter.
Humanitarian organizations are warning of large civilian casualties and waves of refugees in a conflict that threatens to destabilize not only Ethiopia but the entire region of the Horn of Africa.
Jake Sullivan, who is expected to be a candidate for National Security Adviser to President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr., he said on Twitter that he was “deeply concerned about the risk of violence against civilians” and called on both parties to engage in a dialogue mediated by the African Union.
Mr De Abiy, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2019 in part for mediating conflicts in the Horn of Africa, avoided diplomacy, saying that Ethiopia is “able and willing to resolve this situation in accordance with its laws and international obligations”.
The push, announced on Thursday, marked a turning point in a military operation earlier this month after Mr Abiy accused leaders in the Tigray region of attacking a government defense post and trying to steal artillery and military equipment.
The national government and the Tigray regional regional administration have been at odds since 2018, when Mr Abiy came to power and his decades-long political and economic influence diminished.
Despite the fact that the Tigray makes up only an estimated 6 percent of the country’s more than 110 million inhabitants, they remained at the center of power and money after the 1991 overthrow of the military regime. In September, the Tigray region held its own elections despite national authorities postponing the vote because of the coronavirus epidemic.
Addressing the dangers of civilians caught in the fighting, Mr Abiy said this on Thursday government would work with humanitarian organizations distribute food, medicine and water in the areas under its control in the Tigray region. He also said authorities are setting up four camps to accommodate fugitives from the conflict.
To the regional capital, Mekelle, which is home to 500,000 people, Mr Abiy said thousands of Tigray special forces and militia members had surrendered. He called on residents of the city to “disarm,” “stay home,” and help arrest rebel leaders in the region.
Mr Abiy also said the military would take measures to protect civilians and ensure that “heritage sites, places of worship, public facilities, development institutions and residential areas” were not targeted during the attack.
The attack worried local and international advocacy organizations that the escalation was happening it puts a lot of civilian life at risk. The United Nations Children’s Fund said it was concerned about the safety not only of Mekelle children, who make up half of the city’s population, but also of hundreds of humanitarian workers.
Laetitia Bader, director of the Horn of Africa, Human Rights Watch, raised concerns about reports that TPLF had deployed its troops to areas inhabited by a citizen. He also said the army’s warnings to Mekelle residents “do not absolve” the authorities of their responsibility to protect civilians.
“An important principle of international law is that violations committed by one party do not justify a violation by the other party,” he said.